My Bowie was “Soul Train Bowie”. Don’t act surprised that my first introduction to David Bowie was via Soul Train. Undoubtedly the best American music variety television program ever conceived. Just like I’m not scared of penny loafers, Bowie wasn’t scared of Black t.v. Bowie’s original performance on Soul Train was on November 4th 1975. Just a few weeks after Elton John became the first white artist to grace that most welcoming Soul Train stage. Even though I caught the replay a few years later, I remember it like it was yesterday.
Saturday mornings at 11a.m. Central Standard Time was Soul Train time. Growing up in the inner city of Gary, IN in the late 70s- 80s and being a black pre teen, that’s what you did. That’s what you loved, that’s where you got all your new music and dance moves. At the time there was no MTV. There was no VH1…heck, there wasn’t even any Friday Night Videos. It was all about the Train . Each Saturday I couldn’t wait to see what band or artist would be performing. Marvin Gaye? The Ohio Players, Earth Wind and Fire? The possibilities where limitless. So you could imagine my surprise when this pale, white, slightly nervous looking man came out on stage. His suit, those shoes, that hair, that accent. It all seemed wrong. Then he opened his mouth and all was right with the world.
Knowing what I know now it all makes sense. Already a pretty big rock star in England in the early 70s, the Bowie that we all came to know and love decided to indulge in Soul and R&B music. This is not something out of the ordinary for a guy from England where the radio stations didn’t think twice about playing black musicians.
That’s who David Bowie was for that one day on Soul Train. He made me experience something different that day. Something good. To see a white guy in front of an all black audience was unexpected, but for him it was all about the music and the experience. It has been said that he was quite nervous before the performance and slammed a few whiskeys before going on stage. I look back at the footage now and it’s apparent that he was almost too relaxed as he moved his lips to the tracks…but it worked. I was drawn in.
Bowie performed his newly released hit “Fame” off his Young Americans album and followed it up with “Golden Years” which was his latest single. After the show ended, life for me resumed. I went outside, I played, I kept my eyes and ears open for more Bowie.
I believe that was one of many experiences that I walked away from knowing that it’s really not about color or race. Just like all the times I was the only black guy in the room. Here he was the only white guy in the room. He was polite, he was funny, he was professional and he was the living proof of cool.
I’ve since forgiven Don Cornelius for Introducing him as David Buoy. (see interview)